Sutton began by explaining the next stage of repairs for The Mill,
the iconic Route 66 structure that has been saved by a group of
local volunteers. The foundation is crumbling and the building needs
to be lifted up so that a new foundation can be poured. Plus, new
wood sills need to be added so that The Mill can be gently nestled
back down on a foundation good for another 100 years.
Later, the conversation shifted to genetics. Yes, the man has a
wealth of knowledge, interests and skills.
Born and raised in Decatur, Sutton attended grade school in
Lincoln and graduated from St. Patrick's High School in Decatur.
When he was a youngster, John's parents, Herbert and Mary, both
worked, and John and his sister, Mary, found the local library their
It was here at an early age that John started reading and
learning about everything his young mind found curious. With a
smile, John said that when those years were over he had read every
book in the library that he had any interest in. With a wealth of
knowledge already in his head, Sutton then attended Springfield
Junior College and went on to Millikin and then Illinois State
University, earning a bachelor's degree in music education.
After four years of teaching music in Beason and Mount Auburn,
Sutton went to work for the state as a mental health counselor and
soon was placed in charge of the rehab and industrial therapy
division. He later went on to work at the prison and ran a leisure
time activity workshop where inmates learned painting, woodworking,
ceramics and even weaving. When asked how a convict would find
weaving or embroidery interesting, Sutton explained that the
projects could be taken back to their cells, and thus convicts with
so much free time could engage in something productive between
It is difficult to pin down dates with Sutton. He has a
remarkable memory, but he doesn't use any of it to keep track of
dates or times. Showing his philosophical side, he explained, "Time
doesn't mean much to me. It's such an artificial thing." Sutton
prefers to concentrate on today and what he intends to do with it
rather than concern himself with what he did some other day now
Although Sutton doesn't concern himself with what he has done,
the effects of his efforts have been significant and important to
the community and those he has helped over the years.
Among the many groups Sutton considers important enough to spend
his "today" on is the University of Illinois Extension in Logan
John Fulton, U of I Extension director, summed up Sutton's work
with the extension service. "John Sutton is a great community
resource," Fulton said. "He has been involved in U of I Extension
programming for over 25 years. He has been on program committees,
program councils, Executive Council and Extension Council at the
local level. He has served on the Regional Extension Advisory
Council and was the chairman. He has also been a member of the State
Extension Advisory Committee and served as the chairman."
He now serves on the dean's committee for the College of ACES at
the University of Illinois. John is involved in many things but
seems to view the service as an opportunity to improve his
community, rather than being a member of a particular board.
His involvement has led to some rather strange associations
between groups, but the end is a formidable coalition to improve
Lincoln and Logan County.
Of course, like many great volunteers, John probably would be
better off with a few more paying jobs rather than the many
volunteer hats he wears. But his reward is in the benefits to his
community, rather than to himself.
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Sutton has extensive knowledge of building construction, starting
from his youth, when his do-it-yourself father taught him how to
fix, repair and rebuild the family house. Over the decades, John has
refined his construction skills to the point of being a master
craftsman at building, or rebuilding, and uses those skills
frequently as a volunteer.
As an example Sutton has been with Habitat for Humanity of Logan
County since the first house was built. "They were building a house
down the block from me and I walked down to see what they were doing
and decided to pitch in," he said. Twelve houses later, Sutton still
pitches in with each house the organization builds.
Sutton also has devoted many hours to the restoration project at
the historic Mill. When an agreement the committee had to install
the new windows fell through, John took it upon himself, with help
from Bob Wilmert, to get the windows all in before winter. Now his
focus for the building has shifted to the foundation that has been
John's volunteer efforts have earned high praise from tourism
director Geoff Ladd. "John Sutton has been a MVP to tourism in this
county," Ladd said. "I first started working with him on the
Railsplitting Festival in 2005. From there, he has time and again
proved his value in many ways, which is why he won the Friend of
Tourism Award at our annual dinner last year. Currently he is the
volunteer project manager at The Mill and has done a tremendous
amount of work on that project."
Over the years Sutton has also been involved with his church,
Holy Family, including chairmanship of the council, and he heads
their buildings and grounds committee.
He has been involved with crafts and hand skills his entire life.
He also is a member of the Abraham Lincoln Arts and Crafts Guild and
is helping to create a historic presentation at the Railsplitting
Festival held each fall. It is this meld of hand craftsmanship
blended with his teaching ability that Sutton enjoys. He believes in
sharing the ingenuity and skills of the past with the younger
generations. "You should know what grandpa did," John explained.
"Everything didn't come in a can. If a rake handle broke, you went
and got a stick and carved it into a new handle."
Although Sutton volunteers to pitch in whenever and wherever he
is asked, sometimes he just does something that needs to be done,
without request. Local historian Paul Beaver recalled when the
community learned that "Illinois Stories" was coming to Lincoln to
film; without anyone asking, Sutton repainted the historic
watermelon sign so that when the PBS show came to town, it would
look good for the cameras.
At age 66, Sutton is now becoming more of a teacher again. "I
need to pass on the valuable experience I have while I still can,"
he said. "It's time for younger people to take over."
It is this caring for the community, not only as a volunteer, but
as someone interested in making sure the next generation of
volunteers is as ready for the task as he has been, that makes John
Sutton our Personality of the Week.